Wednesday, 26 November 2014

933 2:54, LSA, Follow The Sun, Bristol Louisiana, Tuesday 25 November 2014

I should really know better than to tip bands to go on to greater things by now, shouldn’t I? Having previously gleefully declared that the likes of Lush and Glasvegas were going to be “huge huge huge!” – and that really didn’t work out for either of those, did it? – I also said, after seeing promising ethereal dreampop pipistrelles 2:54 at my old 80’s tiny bolt-hole, Oxford’s Jericho Tavern, a couple of years ago, that I had a feeling the next time I saw them would be in a much bigger venue. Hmmm, I thought, 2 years on, as I booked tickets for tonight’s gig at, erm, tiny Bristol bolt-hole The Louisiana, bigmouth strikes again!
I also picked up their new CD, “The Other I”, but despite it generating a similar mood of wistful melancholy as their eponymous debut, I found it a bit, well, samey really, overall no real development or progression to their sound, a couple of numbers (notably the excellent “Crest”) notwithstanding. Nevertheless, one hopes that as at the Jericho, the band could rise above their lack of obvious tuneage “live”. We’ll see… So, I set off after 7 for a run down an increasingly rainy M4, rather stupidly over-shooting my turn in the centre of Bristol, but eventually finding a lucky parking spot directly outside the venue, nonetheless getting soaked while I got the ticket. D’oh! Dried off in the downstairs bar while watching the first half of the Man City Champion’s League game, then took a wander upstairs for opener Follow The Sun. Wished I hadn’t, as he was (again) “playing” low budget nature documentary theme tune bollocks through his tape loop machine whilst sitting there looking gormless. I hate these so-called “musicians” who do this… hate ‘em!
I was therefore more kindly disposed to main support LSA – at least they were a proper band! – and honestly they were much more the ticket. A gang of four black and red clad youths playing some generic but spritely and upbeat glam/indie guitar pop, with their third number displaying some shimmering shoegaze fretwork, and their best number, “Where’s The Time Gone” (?) showing some widescreen stadium rock tendencies. Set closer “Honest Man” spewed out impressive garage rock venom, closing a nice support set from a confident young band clearly still looking for their own identity. It’ll be interesting to see how they end up…
Back into the now-busy upstairs room for the main act; I took a spot near the front as 2:54, after a soundcheck and brief departure from the stage, re-appeared at 10, the 4-piece band led by sisters Collette and Hannah Thurlow and backed up by 2 beefy blokes. Opener “South” kicked off proceedings, the girls slowly swaying and rocking in time with this moody opener. An early “Scarlet” segued splendidly into the excellent, creepy “Sugar”, and a subsequent bouncy “Crest”, easily their best new number, was also head and shoulders above anything else tonight, a sweeping chorus featuring some almost early U2-like intricate guitar riffery from Hannah, and some pounding drums from the impressive, hard-hitting sticksman.
That, however, was as good as it got. All too often there was little variation in the otherwise patchy material, and it merged into one, relying too much on evoking a gloomy, melancholy mood and atmosphere, and on Collette’s strident atonal vocals. Like one of their obvious antecedents, 90’s pseudo Goth/electronica band Curve, they’ve got a couple of really good numbers right now, then there’s a big gap, then there’s the rest… The chorus line to new number “Blindfold” uncomfortably resembled Adamski’s “Killer” (covered by them last time out), and I confess my mood wasn’t helped by ubiquitous (and large) scenester Jeff turning up midway through and barging right to the front, necessitating a shift around just so that I could see! Appreciate your enthusiasm Jeff, but you make a lousy window…
“Orion” concluded a lengthy-feeling 45 minute set, prior to which Collette thanked everybody for coming, stating, “it’s been a long road back”. Perhaps they should have made a couple of more stops along said road to write more songs and develop their sound further, I thought as I swiftly exited the venue (no set-list tonight, so my recent run stops at 20, but after this show I wasn’t that bothered) and made my way home, a wretched journey down a sodden M4. Sorry girls, but I’m afraid that on the strength of tonight and the current album, 2:54 have been well and truly eclipsed in the doomy goth girl-pop stakes by the likes of Savages, and I’ve got the feeling the next time I see them – and there will be a next time, I’m not giving up on this still-promising band that easily – it’ll be in exactly the same size of venue as tonight…

Friday, 21 November 2014

932 MERCHANDISE, Shopping, Idles, Bristol Start The Bus, Thursday 20 November 2014

A new gig location for me, this, and a familiar band with possibly a slight departure to their previous sound. Merchandise, last year’s Reading Festival best newcomers and hosts of a fine Jericho Tavern show last Autumn, announced another small venue tour to promote delicious new album “After The End”, a record which, despite retaining their blueprint moody, textured and sample-layered sound, sees them moving away from the freeform structure and stretched Krautrock templates of their previous efforts. There are discernable choruses! Verses! Hooks aplenty! A move to generally more “conventional” song structures, with vocalist Carson Cox having declared in advance of the album, “we’re going to remake ourselves as a pop band,” how would this play out “live”? One way to find out…
So I hit the road fairly early, expecting lots of Christmas shopping traffic around Bristol’s Cabot Circus and oddly finding none, therefore parking up and hitting this central venue around 8. A small pub side area/room, not much bigger than the Louisiana (so, then… small!) cordoned off from the main bar with a bit of black material (but well within earshot of the bar), with steps down to a small dancefloor, and a wooden-clad corner stage which gave the impression the bands were playing in someone’s garden shed! Not enough room onstage for 2 drumkits so local openers Idles played on the floor. They were terrible; an unrehearsed, half-formed, half-baked mess of clumsy shouty pseudo-allegedly “punk” bollocks. The vocalist introduced most numbers with, “this is called [song x], and it’s about [ subject y]… only joking…” (?), and their only redeeming feature was some nice Editors-like ringing fretwork from the guitarist, who could obviously play a bit, so he’s clearly wasting his time there… Main tour support Shopping, on about 9.30, were more palatable; seemingly mining the middle ground between The Slits, early B52s and Talulah Gosh (!), they had a pronounced DIY ethic and a sound consisting of militaristic drumbeats, occasionally dubby rhythmic base, intricate mutant single-note guitar picking and minimal yelping vocals passed liberally around the 3 band members. Interesting stuff, but I couldn’t eat a whole one…
Between the 2 supports, I’d stopped a lurking Carson Cox for a quick chat, and had my ear talked off by this most gregarious and open frontman; he allegedly remembered me from Oxford, and we chatted about Florida, the state of rock’n’ roll and his future plans for the band (“it was only meant as a side-project!” Yeah, right…). I was subsequently even more up for this one, and took my place down the front as the band set up for their late-starting set, about 20 past 10. After locating their drummer (Cox quipping, “anyone want to play drums for us tonight?”) we were on our way with big, strident opener “Enemy”, the chiming, driving rhythm being overlaid by Cox’s deep, deliciously resonant vocals, and the subsequent “In Nightmare Room”, all louche and languid, prompting me to shake my ageing booty down the front, and prompting Cox to remark, “thanks for dancing!” Hell, that was enough to keep me dancing throughout!
Shorn of the samples and effects which add depth and texture to their studio output, Merchandise “live” were a full-on rock’n’roll treat, and Carson Cox was a brilliant, riveting frontman, mobile and angular, with oddball, slightly flaky charisma to throw away. “Little Killer” was an early, superb highlight, the chugging rhythm very reminiscent of The Smiths’ classic “The Headmaster Ritual”, and the hook dark and dramatic, then a slower “Beginning” (“for the disco ball!”) nonetheless morphed into a Doors-like psych-rock wig-out, and “Green Lady” thereafter was a real treat, soaring and imperious with a dramatic finale.
But it was the penultimate “Anxiety’s Door” which was tonight’s highlight; this lengthy Krautrock workout positively rocked, bristling with venom and purpose, and Cox’s frontman performance was committed, riveting and outstanding, jumping in and out of the crowd, teasing, tempting, loving this moment, not wanting it to end. And neither did we. Brilliant stuff from a real band with boundless potential.
Guitarist Dave Vassalotti handed me the setlist (“sure thing!”) and I hung out afterwards, catching my breath, chatting with the band, getting the list signed and buying a t-shirt (Merchandise merchandise!) before eventually heading home with Carson Cox’s thanks and compliments ringing in my ears, home for 12.30, late for a Bristol gig. Aching limbs the next day, but Merchandise were totally worth it!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

931 BOB MOULD, Young Knives, Bristol Fleece, Monday 17 November 2014

And now for something completely noisy…! The US alternative rock legend that is Bob Mould, mastermind behind 2 of the finest and fiercest bands of the 80’s/ 90’s in Husker Du and Sugar, and compiler of a breathtakingly impressive body of work in his own right (including 1989’s “Workbook”, still one of my all-time Top Ten albums), playing the noisy rock music at The Fleece! Over the last couple of years, after a dalliance with electronic-tinged stuff, he appears to have rediscovered his alt-rock/ popcore mojo again, with an impressive 2012 release “Silver Age” (parts of which he premiered when we last saw him, after the “Copper Blue” run through of gig 848, a couple of Summers ago) being followed by an even better one in this year’s “Beauty And Ruin”. So I snapped up tickets pronto, disappointed that no-one else felt the need to have their ears sandblasted with some sheet metal rock’n’roll noise, thereby resolving to go on my own!
A bit of pre-gig research (I love!) indicated Bob would be playing a smattering of Husker Du numbers straight out of the blocks, so I made sure of an early departure, to ensure avoiding traffic chaos in the 24-hour jam that Swindon has suddenly turned into, and also to arrive in time to buy an old friend a beer. It worked in one way; I duly joined the queue for doors at 7.30, but the old friend didn‘t show! Luckily (?), this was an early scheduled show, so I didn’t have long to wait for openers Young Knives, on at 8. However, I just flat out didn’t like them; I should have, given some dark, driving rock from this eclectic-looking trio, but their tunes were smothered not only in echoey reverb but also pompous nonsense and a feeling of unentitled self-importance. Clearly a band who take themselves waaay too seriously (viz. the keyboardist being called The House Of Lords!), their best moment was when the singer donned a set of makeshift batwings (which actually looked like umbrellas!) during their final number!
From the ridiculous to the utterly sublime; despite this being a sell-out, I found a clear space, stage left, actually leaning against the monitors, for Bob’s entrance just before 9. He followed his band (bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster) onstage to a rapturous reception, then kicked into a formidable opening triad of 3 Husker Du numbers, “Flip Your Wig”, an incredible “Hate Paper Doll” and “I Apologise” with ferocious intensity. Holy shit, that’s the way to start a set, no mistake!
So that was me, rocking down the front as much as my knees would allow and occasionally bolting in my earplugs to give my eardrums some respite from the almost palpable noise. This was as uncompromising, relentless and powerful a set as I’d been subjected to for many a moon; after a few remarks about tribute bands (“so anyway, we’re Hugh-sker Du!”), Bob launched into a selection from the current “Beauty And Ruin”, the highlight being the phenomenal “I Don’t Know You Anymore”, as irresistibly catchy a number as he’s produced since “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” (which also appeared later on in the set!). Bob was imperious, his low, resonant growl rising above the guitar assault, as Jason wrestled his low-slung bass like Dee Dee Ramone, and Jon hammered the beat with thrilling kinetic Caldes-like energy. The slow-burn denouement to excellent newie “The War” segued into Husker Du classic “Hardly Getting Over It”, providing some respite but delivered almost power-ballad like, sprawling and epic. Then it was back onto the sheet metal noise onslaught, with a soaring “Helpless”, and a later, almost singalong “Hoover Dam” from Sugar’s back catalogue. The embryonic post-hardcore of “In A Free Land” closed an amphetamine-fast set of 21 songs in a breathtakingly swift hour, after which encores of the irresistibly melodic “Makes No Sense At All” and a cover of Sonny Curtis’ “Love Is All Around” (no, not that one…) punctuated the set, at which point Bob took centre stage to bathe in the applause, leaving to lengthy and unrequited encore calls.
As good was to come afterwards though; I needed some time to catch my breath so hung back near the backstage entrance awhile, and my patience was rewarded as I met Bob and the band to get my setlist (handed to me at the set’s climax by Jason, whose monitor I‘d been pounding on throughout, as a thank you “for rocking out!”) signed, and a pic, handshake and a few quick words with the great (and very humble) man, one of my all-time rock icons. “Thanks for your support through the years,” he remarked, my response being, “keep coming back and I’ll keep coming to see you!” My ears are still ringing. Wow. Just…. wow.

Friday, 7 November 2014

930 THE WAR ON DRUGS, Steve Gunn, Bristol O2 Academy, Thursday 6 November 2014

I’m continuing my Autumn Dance Card “deep dive” through what appears to be the best American Alternative rock has to offer right now (Hold Steady, Real Estate, SoSo Glos in the books, with Bob Mould, Merchandise and the New Pornographers yet to come) by giving this lot another chance! My last outing with War On Drugs, 18 months ago, was a bit of a clunker, their intriguing metronomic Krautrock/ Americana mixture being submerged under swathes of indistinct noise by the Thekla’s sound system. Truth to tell, I probably wouldn’t have bothered, however WOD’s current album “Lost In The Dream” is a lovely listen; an aptly-named immersive, melancholy drift through hazy, half-lit smoky rooms bathed in early morning sunlight through latticed windows. It manages a rare feat of being intriguingly hypnotic and mesmerising, whilst at the same time evoking Don Henley’s 80’s cheeseball anthem “The Boys Of Summer”. Weird! Anyway, one hopes that the much better O2 sound system wouldn’t muck this up. We hope…
So, an early departure thanks to drizzly weather and traffic chaos in Swindon still meant I parked up at 7.30. However this was unfortunately well in time to join the early-comers for support Steve Gunn and his 2 back-up boys, on at 8. He kicked off with an interminably long – over 10 minutes! – opener which started pleasantly enough but then descended into Jethro Tull sludgy prog noodling. At its’ (eventual) conclusion I turned to a fellow punter and suggested, “I’m half expecting him to say now, “this is our last song”!”. Thankfully the rest of his set was a little better, tending towards forgettable strumalong alt-Americana with the odd unfortunate prog detour. However the best part of his set for me was when he introduced, “my brother Tommy on bass…” wait, what? His brother’s called Tommy Gunn?!?
After a loo break, I wormed my way back through an utterly heaving floor to an air pocket, stage left, in front of the speakers. Some shuddering pre-set feedback made me wonder whether they were trying to find the brown note (!), then War On Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel demonstrated control freak tendencies by coming onstage to lay out his own cables and pedals. You’ve got roadies for that, mate! Anyway, Adam then led the 6-piece band on to zero fanfare; they plugged in and kicked off the synth pulse and heavy guitar reverb of intriguing opener “Burning”, the sound already a quantum leap better than last time out. Hooray!
This was a fine, varied set of their melange of guitar-driven Americana, often evoking the strumalong heartland travelogues of early REM, and Stereolab/ Krautrock synth overlays. A lot of light and shade, with slower, more considered numbers mixed in, although I liked their sound better when it was off on a gallop. “The last couple of times we played [Bristol] we were on the motherfuckng boat! It’s nice to be off the Thekla!” announced Adam before the languid, absorbing “Under The Pressure”, then following the audience reaction, recanted somewhat; “oh, you like it? It’s better than here? OK, long live the Thekla!”
The excellent, upbeat “Ocean Between The Waves”, featuring a hard-edged, soaring climax almost recalling early U2, was a mid-set highlight, before a thoroughly noisy number (“Best Night”?), which was a little jarring, featuring swathes of everything (synth, brass, the whole darn kitchen sink!), but was thankfully followed by a quieter “Buenos Aires”. The subsequent, penultimate “Red Eyes”, however, was a thrilling, locomotive joyride and the best thing on the menu tonight. Adam was the pivotal point throughout; clearly in charge here, his detached, nasal tones, which recalled a hazy, lazy Bob Dylan (!), sprinkled over the music like desert sand, whilst his guitar provided the main thrust and propulsion.
“Baby Missiles” was the highlight of the encore, another breathless synth/strumalong collision, before the tender Laurel Canyon ballad of “Suffering”, the best of the slower numbers on show tonight, along with more compliments for the Thekla (!) and for tonight’s sell-out, totally engaged crowd, drew a 1 ½ hour performance to a close. Always fine, one jarring mid-set number notwithstanding, and at its’ best at full-on rhythm and jangle, this was a million times better than last time out, and a record-breaking set-list (my 18th in a row!) was the icing on the cake. I’m glad I gave War On Drugs another chance!